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AHS November Blog: Finding the Sweet Spot: Navigating the Overflow of Sweets During this Holiday Season

The Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences (AHS) publishes a monthly blog written by students, alumni, and faculty sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the fields of agricultural, extension, and human science. In the November blog post, Lily Bunnell, undergraduate in nutrition science; Tara Gregory, Chatham County Extension Family Consumer Science Agent; Erin Massey, Transylvania County Extension Family Consumer Science Agent and Virginia Stage, AHS Assistant Professor provides information and resources on how to navigate the overflow of sweets during this holiday season.

The holidays are a time of joy, celebration, and… sweets! From Halloween treats to Thanksgiving desserts to Christmas cookies, it’s no surprise that many parents find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer volume of sugary delights that make their way into the household. While indulging in these treats is part of the festive fun, it’s essential to limit the amount for the sake of our children’s health and well-being. Consider the Dietary Guidelines, which emphasize that less than 10% of calories should come from added sugar. However, during this time of year this recommendation can be challenging to meet. Here are some tips to help you handle the overflow of sweets during the holiday season:

1. Set Clear Boundaries

Consider managing your child’s sweets intake around the holidays as a learning opportunity to guide their self-regulation. At first, you might want to assume responsibility of the candy stash or dessert options. Eventually, as your child builds self-management skills, they will have the opportunity to be responsible for the sweets. Then, emphasize that they can have control of their sweets if they demonstrate strong management skills. Reassure them that the candy or dessert will still be available at meals and/or snack-times, and when it is available, they can eat as much as they want.1 Over time, the goal is to  shift into having little inference so your child develops their skills in self-control.

2. Treat Sweets Like Normal

Children can often feel overwhelmed by the presence of candy in their environment. However, this “tunnel vision” towards anything with sugar is perfectly normal.2 As a parent, you just want your child to be healthy; however, our first instinct is to make sweets contingent upon certain behaviors.3 This can look like giving your child dessert only after they finished everything on their plate or giving them candy only after doing well on a test in school. This approach may unintentionally place sweets on a pedestal; they become a reward. To preserve the joy of the holidays, try not to overemphasize the candy or dessert options. In time, sweets will be less likely to preoccupy your child’s thoughts and actions. 

3. A Lesson in Moderation 

Take advantage of this holiday season to teach your kids the importance of moderation and making healthy choices. Start conversations about what happens when you eat too much sugar and highlight the many advantages of having a well-balanced diet. Try a different approach by following Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR), which means including sugary foods in your regular meals and snacks.1 Emphasize this normalizing process by adding dessert to every meal and sometimes allowing unlimited sweets during snack-time. This way, you can help your kids develop a healthy understanding of moderation in a simple and practical manner.3

4. Healthy Alternatives: Balancing the Sweetness Spectrum

Empower your kids to strike a balance in their sugar intake by offering delectable and nutrient-rich additions to sugary foods. For example, if you were already going to treat your child to some delicious chocolate, you could try melting this chocolate over fruit to add more nutrition to the snack. Create enticing fruit platters or craft delicious smoothies, providing satisfying alternatives to traditional candies. This not only diversifies their palate but also ensures a more wholesome and balanced approach to holiday snacking. While your holiday meals might not fit perfectly with the USDA’s My Plate, this can still be a great reference to ensure that as your child consumes more sweets during this season they are still balanced in all the major food groups (proteins, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and milk). For example, when you offer dessert at meals or snack time, accompany it with low-fat milk.1,4 Consider trying the recipe shared at the end of this blog post!

5. Share the Joy

Finally, consider extending the festive joy beyond your home by sharing some of the holiday sweets with neighbors, friends, or coworkers. This not only spreads holiday cheer but also reduces candy left at home, ensuring a more manageable and health-conscious environment. Numerous organizations accept candy donations for various causes, providing an excellent opportunity to engage with local charities. By (donating candy) instead of eating it, your family actively contributes to the community’s well-being. This also preserves the overall joy of the holidays without undue concern about sugar intake negatively impacting your child’s holiday experience.

Effectively navigating the holiday sweets deluge is a task for caretakers. The tips shared here are meant to guide you in finding that sweet spot between savoring the holiday treats and promoting your family’s well-being. By establishing clear limits and recognizing sweet treats as teachable moments, you can empower your kids to make wise choices. This approach allows us to gradually hand over the reins as our children demonstrate responsible management of their treats. Shifting away from using sweets as rewards and steering clear of excessive focus on them helps diminish our children’s fixation on treats, fostering a healthier and more balanced attitude toward enjoying them.


Baked Apples with Cinnamon-Oat Topping


2 medium sweet red apples (such as a Gala apple grown right here in NC)
3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans (or substitute walnuts)
2 tablespoons uncooked quick-cooking oats
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon chopped dried cranberries
1 tablespoon cold butter, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
½ cup 100% apple juice


Before you begin: Wash your hands.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).
  2. Cut each apple in half horizontally. Use a melon baller or spoon to remove the core from each half, creating a rounded hole.
  3. Combine nuts, oats, brown sugar, cranberries, butter, cinnamon and salt. Use your fingers or a fork to mix until mixture resembles coarse meal. Fill each apple half with about 2 tablespoons of oat mixture.
  4. Place apples in an 8-inch baking dish; pour apple juice around apples in dish. Cover dish with aluminum foil.
  5. Bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until apples are tender and topping is golden brown.

Baking time will vary depending on the variety, size and ripeness of the apples. Apples are finished when easily pierced with a toothpick.


  1. Teach your child to be relaxed and matter-of-fact about sweets. (n.d.). Ellyn Satter Institute.
  2. Wolraich, M. L., Wilson, D. B., & White, J. W. (1995). The effect of sugar on behavior or cognition in children. A meta-analysis. JAMA, 274(20), 1617–1621.
  3. Rollins, B. Y., Loken, E., Savage, J. S., & Birch, L. L. (2014). Effects of restriction on children’s intake differ by child temperament, food reinforcement, and parent’s chronic use of restriction. Appetite, 73, 31–39.
  4. Childhood nutrition. (n.d.). HealthyChildren.Org.
  5. Baked apples with cinnamon-oat topping recipe. (2016).